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Islamophobia In The Times Of COVID-19: Before The Virus, Hate Could Get Us All

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The world today has found itself in an unprecedented situation, where almost all countries of the world have come under the grip of the COVID-19 outbreak. The disease was declared as a global pandemic by the WHO and has already caused much damage to human life, economy, and society. However, as the world fights the deadly virus, India seems to be in a battle of its own: battling a two-pronged war against Coronavirus on the one hand, and Islamophobia on the other.

The Tablighi Jamaat incident, wherein around 3,400 people came together for a conference on March 13 and subsequently many members contracted the Coronavirus from large number of foreign attendees of the event has led to the resurgence of Islamophobia in India. The incident itself was a clear failure of the government and the bureaucratic machinery. But, since the individuals involved belonged to a particular religious group, they (the administration) were seemingly let off easily.

The incident is a true representation of how far the secular fabric of India has been destroyed, especially in the light of the Northeast-Delhi violence just a month ago, targeting the Muslims which led to more than 53 deaths, out of which two-thirds were Muslims.

Media wasted no time in spreading hatred against Muslims

The mainstream media channels who, in the past, actively spread hatred in society rose up to the occasion and wasted no time in transposing the entire Coronavirus outbreak in India to Muslims. The reporting of the entire outbreak has followed the strict binary of ‘us’ and ‘them’ which can be frequently found in the narrative of the Hindutva forces.

Large sections of the society were given the message, through these channels, that it was okay to demonise an entire community on the pretext of the outbreak. The media houses who, for a month, had been lost in the dilemma of how to question their own advertisers and playing antakshri (a game) to compensate for the lack of news, suddenly found a story perfectly suited to their area of specialisation. One of conducting Hindu- Muslim debates among bigoted leaders, ‘sting operations’ on ordinary people, and rage-filled anchors shouting for viewership and TRP.

The English media channels who, in the past tried, to maintain a façade of neutrality emerged as the centres from which hatred could be moulded into ‘sophisticated’ arguments about how a particular community had failed the nation and needs to be disciplined.

Madrasas had to face sting operations because they provide food and shelter to kids. The self-confessed ‘nationalist’ channels went the extra mile to ostracise the community by spreading fake news, propagating violence against Muslims, and posting rhetorical questions as headlines urging people to identify the ‘villain’ of the outbreak.

The hatred spread by the media has simply refused to stop and shifted the entire focus from the widespread suffering of the common man due to the lockdown, by masking any failure by the central and state governments as an effect of the malicious intent of Muslims.

Saharanpur Police countered fake news spread by major media houses

 

As the mainstream media collectively failed our multicultural society, social media has emerged as the perfect platform to target Muslims and incite hatred without any accountability. The insidious IT cell and its large army of followers got #coronajihad trending within an hour. According to data published by the TIME Equality Labs, the hashtag was shared 3 lakh times and was viewed by as many as 165 million people.

The spread of  Islamophobia has now found its support among a large section of ‘apolitical’ citizens. The spread of fake news over social media was rampant and infiltrated family WhatsApp groups, professional platforms, and our homes. Although some official Twitter pages of police authorities have countered fake news, they pose little challenge to the ‘robo-public’ that accepts every fake news probably due to the deep-rooted belief that a community is inherently ‘bad’. This has also been followed by social media blitzkrieg in form of trolling, shaming, and online abuse of every individual who stated that human stupidity should not be used to demonise or harm an entire community.

Suicide note left by Mohommad Dilshad who was targetted due to Covid-19

    Suicide note left by Mohammad Dilshad who was targetted due to Covid-19

The Islamophobia that has spread the polity of India is these extraordinary times is unprecedented and has far-reaching consequences for our nation as compared to other divisive issues of the past. One of the major reasons for this is that hatred against the Muslims has gained the consent and acceptance of large sections of society that did not subscribe to Islamophobia in the past.

Despite the lockdown, there are multiple examples on how Islamophobia has been successful in an economic boycott, the denial of medical treatment, emotional abuse, and even the lynching of Muslims. I really do feel that the example of the Tabligh will be used in the future to develop divisive stereotypes and would contribute heavily to the Hindutva divide of ‘patriots’ subscribing to Islamophobia and anti-nationals.

The secular fabric of India has been breached with the past failures and wrongdoings of the democratic institutions and present failure its civil society. As Dalit Rights activist and scholar Anand Teltumbde wrote in his open letter before he was arrested on Ambedkar Jayanti, “The jingoist nation and nationalism have got weaponised by the political class to destroy dissent and polarize people. I see my India being ruined…..”

Man in Agra drinks spilt milk – Source NDTV

The pandemic poses a huge challenge to our nation where poverty is set to increase drastically in the upcoming days. Our economy, under recession from February itself, is bound to be severely affected. The farmers, unskilled workers, daily wage labourers, and all women under the poverty line are the hardest hit and cannot be sufficiently taken care of under the present circumstances.

As challenges mount one after the other, India cannot afford to be a divided nation and needs all hands on deck to come out of this disaster. Internal divide among the people can only lead to the disastrous consequences for the nation. While our scientists work hard to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 it remains the responsibility of the political class of Indian citizens to eliminate Islamophobia from India. Otherwise, before the virus, hate could get us all.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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